With The Post, Meryl Streep proves yet again — there's no role she can't pull off on screen

Gautam Chintamani

Jan,11 2018 16:24:36 IST

A few days ago, Meryl Streep failed to recall her own Oscar nominations, where she forgot to remember each time she was in the running for an Oscar. This was bound to happen, considering that she has a whopping 20 nominations in just a little under a 40-year career. The next time Streep appears on Jimmy Kimmel Live! she may or may not recall the entire list again but one thing is for certain that there could be an increase in the number of nominations and, who knows even another Oscar.

Streep holds the record for being the first ever actress to receive 20 nominations for acting, and with the buzz about Steven Spielberg’s The Post notching up nomination number 21 getting stronger with each passing day, Streep could rewrite history by not only becoming the most nominated actress but also equalling the record of most wins.

Actress Meryl Streep arrives at the 23rd Screen Actors Guild Awards in Los Angeles, California, U.S., January 29, 2017. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni - HT1ED1U04C7E9

Actress Meryl Streep. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

Although the iconic Katharine Hepburn’s record of four Oscars, which Streep could equal in the months to come, were all in the Best Actress category, Streep’s first was for Best Actress in a Supporting Role in Kramer vs. Kramer (1979).

But what separates Streep from not just the greats before her but also many of her contemporaries, is the notion that there is nothing that she can’t do.

In the 1980s when Streep truly arrived — with peerless performances such as The French Lieutenant's Woman (1981), which fetched her the first of her Best Actress nominations, and Sophie's Choice (1982), her maiden Best Actress win — most critics still largely viewed films from the male lead’s point of view. Perhaps this is the reason why a film such as Kramer vs. Kramer (1980) considered Streep’s performance to be a supporting act unlike The Godfather (1972) where even though top-billing Marlon Brando’s screen time was less than an hour, he still got the  ‘best actor’ tag.

The constant focus on men in leading roles might have robbed women being hailed for some truly superlative performances. Take for instance Streep’s own powerhouse performance in Mike Nichols’ Heartburn (1986), which was an autobiographical look at the breakup of writer Nora Ephron's marriage to Carl “All the President's Men” Bernstein. The first time when you see the film you are hooked on to Jack Nicholson’s portrayal of Bernstein but subsequently when you rediscover Streep’s immersive performance there is no way that it would ever leave you.

Every generation of fans, followers, commentators and critics come to this conclusion in their own little way and have that one Streep performance that cements this belief. For some it’s Silkwood (1983), which may not trump The French Lieutenant’s Wife or the urgency of Sophie’s Choice but the sheer understated brilliance of the way she interpreted the real-life Karen Silkwood, is what great cinema is made of.

Similarly, Streep’s comic turn in She Devil (1989) was among one of the first films that a generation of Indians were exposed to when satellite television debuted in the early 1990s and then it was her tiger-mom number in action-drama The River Wild (1992), which became yet another indication of Streep excelling at just about any role.

In the 2000s Streep showed no indication of slowing down or reducing her output.

She was one of the few among her generation of actors who could still attract decent parts. Unlike a Robert De Niro or Al Pacino or Dustin Hoffman, Streep didn’t turn into a parody of her own vintage self every time she faced the camera. The decade was one of the best in terms of the characters she played, be it the Spike Jonze directed Charlie Kaufmann scripted Adaptation (2002) or The Devil Wears Prada (2006), which soon became ‘the film’ that introduced Streep to the next generation of viewers.

In 2008, Streep showed her versatility and range with the musical Mamma Mia! on the one hand and the terse Doubt where she played a Catholic School principal Sister Aloysius Beauvier who questions a priest Father Brendan Flynn’s (Philip Seymour Hoffman) ambiguous relationship with a troubled young student.

Some critics have joked that whenever Streep’s in the running for any award the jury should simply hand it over to her.

Off late there has been something mechanical in the way a Meryl Streep performance plays out. Could this have to do with the fact that she is so effortless that at times one can’t help but feel that she is simply going through the motions? According to Katharine Hepburn's official biographer A. Scott Berg, Meryl Streep was her least favourite modern actress on screen: "Click, click, click," she said, referring to the wheels turning inside Streep's head.

Irrespective of it all, Streep continues to be a colossus and her ability to awe just about every single member of the audience with each of her performance is the biggest award that could ever be bestowed upon her.

Updated Date: Jan 11, 2018 16:24 PM